Monday, 2 September 2013

Crowdsourcing Utu

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” -Woodrow Wilson


While Syria is dominating the news, John Robb brings up an interesting concept as an alternative to conventional military intervention or strikes. Instead of deploying military assets, like cruise missiles or commando teams (which could cause civilian casualties, collateral damage, easily escalate any conflict, and political blowback), a list of "targets" (those accused of chemical weapon deployment in this case) could be designated and given a time limit to surrender. Beyond that, "anything goes," including drone strikes or assassination attempts.

This is a topic mused about before in some ways, but the truly interesting part comes from combining it with decentralized networks and crypto-currencies. Imagine a non-state agency or group that would offer "rewards" (e.g. a certain amount of crypto-currency or other resource) for hindering a certain individual/corporation/nation/gang/etc. in various ways. It could range from, say, whistleblower sites or journalists offering rewards for disclosing information of note, like documents of secretive dealings.

The "defenses" and abuses of such a system are rather interesting as well. In the case of the journalism leaking reward, for instance, fake data and documents could be submitted. Likewise, the individuals running the system could be watched or compromised (although automating that in some form of software could act as a "dead man's switch"). Governments could also use such a system to find wanted fugitives of the more mundane variety, such as wanted murderers on the loose or simple violations of note to watchdog groups (environmental, legal, etc.).

Such a system could be deployed at a global level, effectively extending a group's reach around the world, irrespective of polity. As such, "international law" could become applicable to realms beyond conventional nations, perhaps even some as of yet unseen forms of law. A positive example of this could be a worldwide "bill of rights" that gives anyone the presumption of innocence, yet is compatible with many existing human rights philosophies. Interestingly, law can exist without a state or polity, or at least the modern sense of "nation state."

The abuses, however, could be great fodder for a science fiction novel or technothriller. Imagine a dystopian, corrupt government falsely smearing a refugee or dissident with various criminal, misleading labels (as already happened). The main character must face bounty hunters, spies, and others trying to send him/her back to his/her home country (or simply trying to assassinate them). Another concept is some kind of criminal network offering bounties for assassinations, beatings, and intimidation towards its foes. The software could be distributed widely around the world, so the bounty remains until someone collects it... Another idea is some kind of activist or civil rights network that gets corrupted into something more insidious due to simple human short-sightedness. Expect a novel incorporating concepts like that soon.

The Maori of New Zealand had a word, "Utu," which can be translated as revenge, reciprocity, or justice. While it inspired a movie of the same name, I believe that such a bounty-hunting system reflects the concept. Somewhere between vigilantism, revenge, and "justice" can lie utu. Whether started by darknets or drone kill lists, the concept is simple and nasty, just like many of history's most enduring weapons. Trial by media could certainly become much more dangerous for the accused, as well.

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